Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tom Lipop - A Week's Internship

Last year, Harriet and I were lucky to meet the eccentric Ross Hancock, who is not only Britain's Best dressed man, Esquire blogger and Project Catwalk alumni, but a pattern cutting and design enthusiast. A shout-out on Facebook came along from him, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with the up-and-coming designer, Mr Lipop. 
The Internship Diaries 
Mr Lipop's Spring/Summer 2011 collection - leather hooded bags.
Day 1
Ross made it unclear as to what the exact working hours were by his laid-back attitude, so naturally I set off from Harrow to Hackney for 9 o'clock with plenty of time to get to to Tom Lipop's (an hour and a half). Nervously, after some location trouble, I arrived for half 8, at which time I was able to be taken through Tom's designs. For a brief moment I met Tom Lipop's business partner, Esser, who had to run off to the sheepskin factory to find the deep rich colour that was needed for the Autumn/Winter '11 collection.

(Left) Fabric samples for A/W'11. (Right) Looks planned out for the catwalk.
The studio is based, like many East London designers, in Tom Lipop's house. Despite being a small working area, there's no denying that the garage completely satisfies an up-and-coming designer's needs.

With it being my first time on an industrial machine, practising sewing straight lines and circles was reasonably nostalgic, despite Tom, Ross and Lizzy all equally reminding me of how young I was. The speed of these machines and the highly sensitive pedal strangely reminded myself of learning to drive a car, which I've recently been doing. It's about finding the right biting point, however in comparison, stalling is much the same as going too fast.
Two industrial machines in the studio.
After a cup of tea, I was asked to Toile (make a prototype of garment, usually in calico) a beautiful jacket where the lapel disappears into a sewn in pocket.This intricate pattern-cutting makes innovative yet wearable garments, typical of Tom's designs. Previously in all honesty I had no idea of the process designers take to make up the garments. Tom Lipop designs, sketches patterns from scratch, and then usually makes a toile so that the factory can see what the finished garment should look like which he then sends off.

Day 2
The 10:00 start, to avoid rush-hour, meant an extra bit of sleep, which is vital for such a physically demanding day!
The day went like this: tracing, cups of tea, tracing, cups of tea, tracing, lunch, mores cups of tea, tracing.
You can see why factories mass produce and laser cut to save on pattern-cutting paper, but frankly there is something so rewarding about the originality and cut of these garments that make the job worth while.
The craftsmanship involved in a simple piece, with numerous different pattern pieces just shows the whole side of fashion the public do not see.
Trousers was my focus of the day, by tracing a previous S/S '11 pattern which will be adapted to the new collection and then re-drawing it to create the short pattern which will be in the suede. And then another adapted trouser pattern.

Various samples and pattern pieces transferred to card.
It's likely that many of you are thinking, a whole day to do that? But there is no denying the time and effort put into each of these carefully thought-out looks. The accuracy of the pattern has to be no less than accurate; every milimetre counts. At lunch time, the ASOS next day delivery bag arrived with two thin bodycon knitted jumpers; one with a hood and one with a polo neck. However, Tom had to alter what looked like a 'turkey neck'! These would be used for styling when shooting the Look Book in the found location, which happened to be above a school and looks like a basketball court in New York.

This season the labels will be sewed on backwards to create a unique approach

Day 3
Since Ross has been slowly coming down with something, he thought it best to keep to himself.

Fabrics in Cashmere arrive for the suiting. (Left: Tom Lipop)
Luckily previous fabrics had not all been used from last season so this means there are now two subtly different shades of blue in the

The Tom Lipop Raglan sleeve pattern (the sleeve seam goes towards the neck rather than over the shoulder)
A template which had to be toiled and re-toiled last season to get strictly the right shape had been mislaid by the fashion house's manufacturers. So unfortunately, the pattern pieces had to be traced from the original master block and adapted using an already made t-shirt. After various alterations and corrections, I traced off the final pattern by the end of the day.

The Raglan jersey tshirt I was tracing
The most exciting element of the day was the arrival of the sheepskin shearling jacket, which unlike most of its kind has raglan sleeves. Lipop London had not designed with sheepskin before now, and the Hackney-based manufacturer a well-produced garment. However after fitting, adjustments needed to be made to the sample: a longer collar to meet in the middle, various buttonholes to improve fit to make the jacket lay flat on the body and buckles to be covered in suede. Thankfully the sleeves fitted even though the pattern had to be shortened to fit on the sheepskin since the piece was cut all-in-one. Personally I loved the suede pockets on the front, which provided a subtle softness to the leather sheepskin jacket.

Sneak preview of the Raglan jacket, purposely photographed less than half of the coat, so not to spoil the catwalk show!

Day 4
I started the day with more tracing but I have to say, practise makes perfect as my curves are smoother already! What annoyed us all was that the seam allowance on pattern master was not correct, it was about 1.3cm instead of 1cm, which is fashion is a nightmare - every mm counts. Ross said we'd make millions if we reinvented an accurate pattern master...

Since Ross blogs for Esquire and is constantly asked what his style is as Britain's best dressed man, he decided to do a post around the question 'What is style?'. In the morning I read it over and felt the post was a bit generic, that he could include his own personal style mishaps and experiences.
The fashion show is in two weeks and Tom Lipop had not ordered zips yet. After looking at some samples and matching them against the colour of the different suedes, the team decided on the navy gold zip for the burgundy suede jacket, as despite the colour differences they complimented each other well. In particular, the gold metal made the Burgundy look more expensive compared to the silver.
Tom Lipop was desperate to get hold of some adjustable Horn timber toggles, but they are so hard to find, and many fashion houses order them in to London haberdashery stores.

Tom Lipop's illustrations for the A/W'11 collection
Half way through the day there was a team meeting as Tom Lipop felt a jacket design had to be taken out the collection, after some time deciding, the Baseball jacket was scrapped from the drawing board because we felt it had been quite 'over-done' recently.

One pattern piece takes up a 1/3 of a pattern cutting table.
The coat's pattern had to be cut into 4 pattern pieces to create minimal seams with a raglan sleeve. So believe me, they were huge.
Today Lipop London were due to be featured on Vogue's 'Ones to Watch' so we were eagerly checking the website throughout the day. The team weren't as happy as they could have been with the pictures, simply because they didn't show the garments to their full potential. Vogue had exclusivity to the photo shoot, but shortly after an interview was posted on the official Vauxhall fashion scout blog.

Day 5
Two shirts and a suit jacket were ready to be sent off to the factory today. Tom had multicoloured plastic wallets in order to keep each pattern, toile, fabric and with jackets chest canvasing separate. One garment has a trouser and a shirt in same navy fabric to create a colour-blocked look.

Shoulder pad needs to be layered, and must not be pre-made. Tom sent one of Ross' Prada jackets to the factory to give an example of the type of finish he was expecting (hand sewn pocket finishes etc). Tom emphasised to Esser that the Prada jacket must come back and the A/W '11 jacket must be made perfectly otherwise it won't sell! The coat's buckles also needed to be covered in cashmere.

Drawings blutacked to the wall for the new A/W '11 bag, which is based on an old vintage rucksack.
One other raglan coat needed to be traced onto card, as Tom previously has found it hard to get back patterns. This can cause a lot of time to be wasted if the design is reinterpreted from another season as the designer has to start from scratch.
At 4 o'clock Tom Lipop was devastated he had spent the whole day figuring out what he wanted the  tracksuit to look like. However this attention to detail is what makes the brand unique, as the long thinking process comes across within the garments.

Tom Lipop is also looking to do shoe design in seasons to come.
Harriet took the train down, and after a while of what I thought were simple directions, Harriet arrived at the Mr.Lipop studios. Before we dashed off to the the National Portrait Gallery to visit the All Walk's Beyond the Catwalk 'Late Shift' event, we did some quick video interviews (to be posted shortly!)
One thing's for sure: I enjoyed my week here thoroughly. I would advise anyone who is interest in pattern cutting or design to contact this designer because the pattern cutting is fascinating, the atmosphere is lovely and the experience is rewarding.
Tom Lipop's Autumn/Winter 2011 collection will be on Wednesday 23rd of February so watch this space!
To find out more about Tom Lipop click here.

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